Literary Lewinsky

05.11.14

The Monica Column You Least Expected

There’s a Lolita revealed in the most recent Lewinsky revelation. But not the one you might have seen coming.

Let me bite my lip and thrust out my thumb and confess: I did not have literary expectations of that woman, Miss Lewinsky.  

For not one, not two, but as many as less than four days now, tongues have been wagging about the first-person memoir Monica Lewinsky published in Vanity Fair, and everyone who pretends to have read it has identified the revelation that surprised him or her most.

Me too. I have one.

In her Vanity Fair article, Monica Lewinsky has pulled off more literary tricks than David Copperfield. No, the other David Copperfield. The book one.

Was it the time she was asked in front of a packed auditorium—for an HBO documentary, no less—about how it feels to be “America’s premier blowjob queen?”  No. But wow.

Was it her deep regret and her wish to “to go back and rewind the tape”? Not at all.  We’re about the same age, she and I. I wish I could rewind my entire back catalog.

Was it all the scandalous stuff she revealed about the Clintons? Not really. She didn’t spill much. (The surprise there comes from Lynne Cheney, who hypothesized that the Clintons actually put Monica up to writing the article in an effort to get all that dirty laundry out the way now before Hillary announced a run—kind of like how the sun got all that darkness out of the way last night before rising in the East.)

None of those are mine. What surprised me the most was what “that woman” did reveal in the article she wrote: she can write.  She’s a good writer. It’s a good article.  I mean, it’s nothing to write Homer about, but just check out her literary flourishes:

She wants to “burn the beret and bury the blue dress.” Alliteration! Sounds like someone’s taught her about both the birds and the bees and the benefits of busting out a barrage of buhs!

She confesses that shame “hung around my neck like a scarlet-A albatross.” Gotta dig the literary allusion. Hester Prynne would be proud. (Of that, at least.)

She writes of her desire to stop “tiptoeing around my past and other people’s futures.” See what she did with “past” and “futures” there? That’s a decent approximation of floating opposites—something I learned from Aaron Sorkin. (With a giant hat tip of the beret to Charles “Best of Times/Worst of Times” Dickens.)

And there’s more: “I was never ‘quite right’ for the position,” she writes. “In some cases, I was right for all the wrong reasons.” Could that be a chiasmus? I don’t know!

And in case you didn’t get it the first time: “I myself deeply regret what happened between me and President Clinton. Let me say it again: I. Myself. Deeply. Regret.  What. Happened.” That’s repetition for emphasis. I repeat: Repetition.  For.  Emphasis. 

What’s her conclusion? “I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past.” Parapet! Purpose!  Past! More alliteration! One that has me scrambling right now to look up “parapet” in my Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of Words We Never Thought We’d Hear ‘That Woman’ Say. … Oh, it’s a barricade! She’s a soldier in a battle! So it’s not just alliterative, it’s an alliterative metaphor!

And, finally, Monica ends her drama in a denouement of dogged dedication: “I am determined to have a different ending to my story.” So we find her now where she hadn’t begun: the narrator in her own book, the character self-aware. Downright Melvillean. Call her Ishmael. 

So there. Her paragraphs are complicated. Her sentences, relatively unimpeachable (unlike this one). Hard to believe, but after all this time as Lolita, Monica Lewinski takes one (albeit not giant) leap toward Nabokov. 

In the end, the one-trick peon has pulled off more literary tricks than David Copperfield. Not that David Copperfield. The other David Copperfield. The book one.

Lest you accuse me of condescension, or worse, let the record show: by no means did I expect her to be stupid. She has one more advanced degree than I ever racked up—bringing our collective total to one—plus a Ph.D. in the school of hard knocks, even if her thesis was self-inflicted.

But let me try to explain in a way Monica herself might: when someone so famous has been so silent for so long (repetition!), you have no idea just how she’ll sound off when speaks up (verbal oppositions!), or what will come out of her mouth when she finally opens it (euphemism! innuendo!). For all we knew, she would be Jodie Foster in Nell, muttering chik-abee ta-ta een tha wayeen. But Monica’s particular idioglossia was not peculiarly idiomatic or even partly idiotic. It may have been a bit self-possessed, slightly self-preserving, and certainly slips into self-promotion, but it was also somewhat profound and poetic.

Writing is hard.  I should know. I am at it not good. I can barely complete a sentence without

So while I feel her pain, I applaud her effort.  And before I go, let me say this:

Monica’s sociology master’s thesis studied the effects of pre-trial publicity on jury selection. No wonder. When she experienced so much attention of her own in the courtroom of public opinion, I, for one, can never know how she felt. I can only imagine it was hell. But I can be pretty darn sure (notice the rising emphasis?) she slaved over every sentence of her article, knowing the pressure of bringing up the past to pave way for her future. With every word, she’s looking for, asking for, begging for (more rising emphasis!) her Second Act (more literary allusion!) even though they say there are none in America. She may not get it. But if you ask me, the past is prologue (outright plagiaristic thievery!) and the book it precedes, after all, isn’t hers. Hillary Clinton's memoir is coming out soon. I doubt the former Secretary of State (alliteration?) will drill down on burned berets or buried blue dresses (alliteration!). But after this article, who knows. Perhaps as she pursues the presidency, the published parsing of her past will provideher particular perspective on the poor put-upon paramour, printed prominently on the primary page!

Too much? Too much.